My nonfiction piece, “The Rider.” was published in Bird’s Thumb Review, February 2018.
The descent from dusk into dark is tender-footed and shy, a lone fox slipping through the woods and out of sight. I know these nights, their silence and sentience; their stars watch me. If I gaze back long enough without flinching I will see slashes of burning meteorites and hear their crackle and roar inside myself. I am leaning against the SAR-5 rescue truck, its red-white-and-blue emergency lights flash silently throwing jagged shadows and splashes of color over the gravel parking lot. Behind the truck the nearest evergreens are cloaked in wooly shadows. The woods are deep black.
Two other search-and-rescue team member, our mission command leader and I are waiting for horses and a wrangler. A hasty team of four members deployed up the mountainside about thirty-minutes ago. I scuff my boot in the gravel and check and recheck my pack. I am thinking about the last time I rode a horse, over two years prior. We are out here tonight to rescue a seventy-five-year-old man. That morning he summited Mount Elbert, a fourteen-thousand-foot peak just outside Leadville, Colorado—an amazing accomplishment for anyone of that age, but he began to weaken during the descent. He and his two adult daughters continued descending all afternoon and into evening, his strength sapped, their progress too slow. Now it was after 9:00 p.m. and they were still miles from the parking lot where we lingered.